Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Left Behind

I've just returned from a grand time at Arlington Beach Camp smack-dab in the middle of Nowhere County, Saskatchewan.

This camp has a large part in my history and the history of my family. It was where my parents' courtship quickened, where they were married, and where they've semi-retired. For as long as I can remember, I've gone there at least once a year. I attended as a summer camper, years later as a camp counsellor, and on a college retreat. It's where my wife's parents met my parents for the first time as our separate worlds merged.

Grandpa & Grandma's old yellow beachfront cabin is long gone, supplanted by a house moved in from a nearby town and subjected to major renovations and additions. With it and the workshop/bedroom combo across the road as well as all the lawn space for campers and tents, it's not unusual for my parents to have 25 people - or more - staying there during family camp.

The camp itself is coming up on its 50th year, and is a ministry of the Free Methodist Church of Canada. That is the branch of the Christian tree in which I held membership before my conversion to Catholicism. Let me tell you something: Free Methodists can sing. The worship services at the old "tabernacle" are renowned for their heartfelt praise, especially the Sunday morning service signalling the end of Family Camp. There's nothing quite like participating in the multi-part harmonies of hundreds of willing, talented voices rendering "How Great Thou Art" or "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" when the singers mean every word of it. It brings tears to my eyes every time I get a chance to experience this type of fellowship.

As a Catholic, I am obligated to attend Mass every Sunday. In a major city like Winnipeg, my options for what time of day to attend Mass vary from the Saturday vigil Mass at different parishes at 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and on Sunday itself I'm aware of Masses at 7:50 AM, 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12:00 AM, 4:00 PM, 4:30 PM, and 9:00 PM. Contrast that to the humble country chapel of St. Rita's Parish in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. At 37 KM distant, it is the closest Catholic parish to the camp, and the priest services three other rural parishes as well. There is but one Mass to attend, and it usually conflicts with the main Sunday worship service at the camp. And the music there... well, when you are led in worship by an old lady pressing "play" and "stop" on a tape recording pieced together from cassette versions of the Catholic Book of Worship III... let's just say the music there leaves something to be desired.

So when visiting my family, I routinely miss out on the grandest worship experience I could have with them in favour of fulfilling my Sunday obligation to attend Mass. But don't think that just because it's an obligation that I'm not eager to be there. The miracle of the Eucharist would draw me there even were it not an obligation. And I know that I could find a priest with low enough standards to give me dispensation [permission] to skip Mass because of the fact that I'm traveling.

I keep coming back to the Gospel of Matthew (13:44-45) where Jesus describes the kingdom of Heaven as a treasure in a field, which a man finds and sells all he has so he can buy the field. Usually I think of this in terms of what else the buyer received when he bought the treasure - mud, weeds, serpents, and other yucky stuff. But this last week I've been thinking more deeply of what I've given up (the "all he has" part) in order to gain this treasure. With rare exceptions, I've given up participating in worship with a building full of eager believers, all of whom are willing and able to put their praise into song. For the most part, I've given up being able to study the Bible with people at a similar or greater level of knowledge than myself. Don't get me wrong: there are Catholics out there that do know and love Jesus personally, who can and do sing, and who read the Bible studiously. But we are the exception, and we're outnumbered by Catholics who are at Mass because they have to be.

God is renewing his Church; of this I am certain. I am also certain that he has a plan for me as part of that renewal. And I know that his reward for any losses I incur will more than compensate me (as if I'm entitled to compensation at all). So I thank God continually for bringing me to this deeper level of Truth and for making it worth the journey. I thank him for the gift of Jesus, both on the cross and physically present in the Church.

It has been worth it, Lord. As much as I am aware of that which I have lost, I have no regrets.